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No Magic Kingdom

February 14, 1993|VIVIEN JOY O. GATPANDAN | Vivien Joy O. Gatpandan, 16, is a sophomore at Franklin High School in northeast Los Angeles. Her essay originally appeared in "L.A. Youth."

When I was a sweet little girl with pigtails, I dreamed of going to the famous land of Uncle Sam to see Mickey Mouse. I thought America was a paradise where "everyone lives happily ever after."

Since I moved here with my family from the Philippines a year ago, I have found that America is no Magic Kingdom. With my parents still unemployed, the budget cuts and the riots, the America I once had in mind is indeed a fantasy.

My first days at junior high were terrifying.

Even though I grew up in Manila, I felt like a country mouse at first, with so many things to get used to. I always got lost and had to ask where my next class was. I am lucky though, because my teachers and some of my classmates at Luther Burbank Middle School were supportive.

In the Catholic school where I used to go, the students stayed in one room and the teachers came to us. There we wore uniforms and had prayers and lots of rules: no gum in class, no makeup, no nail polish, no boys. It was quite a shock for me to see girls smoking in the restroom and couples making out near their lockers.

I still feel homesick once in a while. I miss the school where I went for almost 10 years. I miss my barkada (friends) and my cousin who was like a sister to me. I gave her my yellow Care Bear to remember me by. It wasn't easy to let go; to leave and to say goodby.

Certain things about Los Angeles fascinate me. I love the computerized carts at Vons Pavilion. And in the midst of such a foreign land, it's weird to see other Filipinos around, watch Filipino news and shows like "The Sharon Cuneta Show" on TV. My family's trip to Disneyland was like a trip around the world. I saw people of so many nationalities.

I am amazed that school is free. In my old school, we had to pay tuition and buy our own books and separate notebooks for each subject. We even had to rent our lockers. In the Philippines, you are fortunate if your parents can send you to school.

That's why I feel frustrated to see some of my classmates not doing their schoolwork and not paying attention in class. Some of them are smart but they don't seem to care about learning. I can't figure out why they're not making use of the opportunities available for them.

The year-round schedule and the budget cuts have hurt school unity. If the majority of the teachers are not in favor of this, how can one expect them to do their best? I think all the faculty, parents and students at every school should have a chance to voice their concerns.

I was horrified by the riots. All I could think about was how children will be affected by the lootings, burning of buildings, the anger and the greed. Are we going to let this go on?

Maybe because I am not an American, I can see the problems here from a different angle. I know many teens feel they can do nothing about them, but I see the possibility for a better way.

The riots reminded me in some ways of the Edsa Revolution in the Philippines, which happened when I was 10. The revolution broke out after an election because of Filipinos' craving for reform after 20 years of rule by Ferdinand E. Marcos.

I remember seeing thousands of people from all walks of life. They stood in front of military tanks and prayed, armed only with flowers, candles and rosaries. It was a wonderful sight and it made me very proud to be Filipino. Even though the people have problems, they gave love, brotherhood, peace and unity a chance.

Why can't we give unity a chance here in Los Angeles too?

Last year, we agreed in my English class to do something nice to anybody, whether it's your mom, your friend or even a stranger. Some of my classmates made breakfast for their moms or did a favor for their siblings. I greeted an old lady who I see every day on the way to school. I said, "Good morning!" Startled for a second, she smiled and greeted me in another language. Isn't it nice to make someone happy?

The sad part is that one of my classmates told me he didn't really complete the assignment, even though he said he did. How can we expect a better future if we don't do our part in the rebuilding process? How can we expect others to do their part when we don't do it ourselves?

Since America has so many diverse nationalities, let's make something new with our different cultures. Each of us has that power within us to have an effect in someone else's life. Though the effect may not be visible immediately, we could use that power to prevent another riot; to overpower the hatred in another's heart.

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